Nebuchadnezzar: The Insanity of Pride

Text: Daniel 4:1-37

“Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything He does is right and all His ways are just. And those who walk in pride He is able to humble.” —Daniel 4:37

There is an old kid’s story about a lion who was very proud and decided to take a walk one day to demonstrate his mastery over all the other creatures. He strutted his way through the jungle until he came across a bear. “Who is the king of the jungle, bear?” the lion asked. “Why of course you are, mighty lion,” said the bear. The lion went on until he found a tiger. “Who is the king of the jungle, tiger?” “Why you are, great lion.” On he walked until he found an elephant. “Who is the king of the jungle, fat elephant?” The elephant immediately grabbed the lion with his trunk, spun him around a few times, and slammed him to the ground. He then stepped on him a few times, picked him up, dunked him in the water, and threw him up against a tree. The lion staggered to his feet and said, “Look, just because you don’t know the answer is no reason to get so upset!”

None of us are immune to pride. Whether it’s assuming we are better than others, boasting in our achievements, holding on to an offense done to us, needing credit from others, demanding recognition or attention for ourselves, or the arrogant critiquing of how the God of the universe should carry out His affairs, pride always goes before a fall (Proverbs 16:18).

Nobody should understand this more than King Nebuchadnezzar of ancient Babylon. In Daniel 4, we see the world’s most powerful dictator of that time “at ease” in his house and “prospering” in his palace when his kingdom was suddenly interrupted by an alarming dream. From our previous devotions in this series, we understand that Nebuchadnezzar knew who to call when a strange dream needed interpretation, so he referred to Daniel’s business card.

As an unchallenged tyrant, anything the king saw or desired, he simply took. He was forceful, selfish, brutal, and egotistical. Nebuchadnezzar didn’t answer to anyone, or so it seemed. But boy was he in for a rude awakening! Daniel pointed out that the “tree” which Nebuchadnezzar saw in his dream, noted for its size, strength, prominence, beauty, and visibility to the whole earth, was about to get “chopped” down. Daniel makes it very clear, “it is you, O king, who have grown and become strong… you shall be driven from among men, and your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field.”

Nebuchadnezzar learns a powerful lesson about the insanity of pride. His madness drives him into the wilderness to live in isolation and eat grass on all fours like a wild animal, “till you know” WHO really is in charge—“that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will.” His hair grew as long as eagle’s feathers and his nails were like birds’ claws. Thus Nebuchadnezzar became the original “Beastie Boy.”

After a period of time, something transformed in Nebuchadnezzar. “I lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me.” If ever we lived in a time when “reason” desperately needed to be returned, these are the height of those days. We have yet to mitigate the curve of unreasonableness in this hour! Our reasonableness is found in direct correlation with our turning, or returning to God—it could cure all of society’s ills. A narcissistic king regains his sanity when he distinctly confesses that God is supreme. He concludes, “Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, for all his works are right and his ways are just; and those who walk in pride he is able to humble.”

This ancient king teaches us the importance of replacing our pride with humble praise to the King of kings and Lord of lords. Where might you need to let humility guide you into dependence on His grace in this hour? Your reasonableness is very much at stake. Think about that as you seek to abide in Him this week.

PRAYER

Father, you are sovereign and true. Your dominion is an everlasting dominion, and your kingdom endures from generation to generation. All the inhabitants of the earth are subject to your mercy. We humble ourselves under your mighty hand. This is our reasonable act of worship. Forgive us of the pride of thinking we can go about this life in our own power. Help us to confront our pride and learn submission to your kingdom reign in our lives today. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection, Small Group or Family Discussion:

  1. What does the term “temporary insanity” mean to you?
  2. What was the meaning of the tree in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream (Daniel 4:20-26)? What happened to the king twelve months after the dream (Daniel 4:28-33)? What happened at the end of the king’s illness (Daniel 4:34-37)?
  3. When has pride brought you low? In what ways can our view of ourselves hinder our spiritual growth? When have you ignored what you felt was a warning from God about specific sinful behavior?
  4. What recent insight, revelation, or reminder about God has given your faith a boost?
  5. Where does humility need to take you this week in submission to the supremacy and authority of God?

Subscribe to “Abiding In Him” and get the latest devotional in your Inbox once a week.

This VBS curriculum is based on the Old Testament book of Daniel. The theme teaches children how to live with courage in uncertain times. It was designed as a camp curriculum for children 8-12 years of age. Can also serve as a 5-week Sunday morning children’s ministry teaching series.

Cancel Culture and a Fiery Furnace

Text: Daniel 3:1-30

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.” —Isaiah 43:2

In the 1920’s, Eric Liddell was one of the greatest 100m sprinters Scotland had ever produced. Known as the “Flying Scotsman,” Liddell was in the spotlight and poised to bring home the gold medal during the 1924 Olympics. That is, until his convictions got in the way. Oh, how faith can sometimes be inconvenient! The 100m finals in Paris were scheduled on a Sunday and Eric believed that running on the Sabbath was dishonoring to God, so he refused to participate in the 100m. As the media can so readily do, they pounced on Liddell by vilifying him and labeling him a traitor. He found himself the brunt of “cancel culture” long before the phrase was ever coined.

Has your faith ever caused you to act on principles or convictions that got you into trouble with the culture or social norms? When I read the Bible I see countless heroes who sacrificed everything, not just social vilification, but their entire lives to remain obedient to God in the face of intense persecution. Hebrews 11 gives us a summary of the many who faced suffering, torture, and death for their faith. If we think that we can somehow skate through this world without paying a price for our faith in one way or another, we might have the wrong faith! The Bible makes it unmistakably clear that our faith—if genuine—will cause us to be canceled or vilified in some way (John 15:18-25).

In our current devotional series from the book of Daniel, we come to chapter three, where King Nebuchadnezzar erects a golden statue to which he commands all the people to bow down and worship. Here we see a discernible link connecting to Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in Daniel 2 (last week’s devotion) and the image he made in Daniel 3. As God gave Daniel the interpretation for the king’s dream, we saw that only the head was gold (symbolizing that Babylon was a temporary kingdom). When Nebuchadnezzar deliberately made an entire statue of gold in chapter 3, it appears he is arrogantly portraying his reign and authority as one that would never end—in defiance of God’s clear interpretation of his dream.

Nebuchadnezzar goes into full-scale tyrannical mode. He sends for all the prefects, governors, and public officials to come and gather for the dedication of his statue. The mandate to attend the ceremony indicates that he is using the worship of this image to test the allegiance of his people. Orders were given that when the musicians and party DJ began to play the music, “you are to fall down and worship the golden image that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up.” Anyone who didn’t conform by bowing down to the golden image was to be immediately thrown into a burning fiery furnace. No mercy!

When it all went down, there were three young men standing in defiance of the king’s orders. They are the same youths we read about in Daniel 1 who declined to conform to the king’s defiled meal plan. Now Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused to bow down to the king’s statue. They understood what this kind of idolatry yielded. Their knees wouldn’t bow for anything except the one true God of heaven and earth. They counted the cost of their faith and determined to obey God rather than man.

The young lads’ refusal to participate in Nebuchadnezzar’s sin party caught the eye of some Chaldeans, who had obvious political motivation, and reported these Jews to the king. This was ancient Babylon’s way of appropriating cancel culture—a heated furnace was typically involved! Nebuchadnezzar was furious, threatening to throw the boys into his fiery furnace. He challenged the young men, “who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands?” Their response is unflinching: “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”

These boys were ready to die for their faith. They were determined that even if God didn’t physically rescue them, they still weren’t going to bow down to the bullying tactics meant to compromise their faith. If they were to burn, they would burn in honor of their convictions and not selling out to cultural conformity.

You’ve probably read this story before and know how it ends. Nebuchadnezzar ordered the furnace to be heated seven times more than it was usually heated, meaning “as hot as possible.” But after these guys were thrown into the furnace, a fourth person surprisingly accompanied them in the fire, described “like the son of the gods.” This manifestation has been explained as a Christophany (a physical appearance of Christ before his incarnation) or an angel. Either way, this is a physical demonstration of God’s presence with believers in their distress, a graphic fulfillment of the Lord’s promise in Isaiah 43:2. The Lord promised his presence with his people, ensuring that their trials and difficulties would not utterly overwhelm them. He always walks with us through the fire. We are never alone!

Nebuchadnezzar is amazed that the fire has no power over these young men. He pulls them from the fire and is so impressed with the witness of their faith that he changes the laws of the land to honor their God.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego never flinched. They never tried to hide their convictions. They didn’t pick a fight, but when it came to them, they were ready to contend for the faith (Jude 1:3). They understood that blending into culture for the sake of approval or acceptance wasn’t an option. Only God was worthy of their allegiance. As Charles Spurgeon wrote:

“You will not be able to go through life without being discovered: a lighted candle cannot be hid. There is a feeling among some good people that it will be wise to be very reticent, and hide their light under a bushel. They intend to lie low all the wartime, and come out when the palms are being distributed. They hope to travel to heaven by the back lanes, and skulk into glory in disguise. Ah me, what a degenerate set!… If you cannot be true to Christ, if your coward heart is recreant to your Lord, do not profess to be his disciple, I beseech you. He that is married to the world, or flinthearted, had better return to his house, for he is of no service in this war.”

If you choose to be obedient to Christ, you too may have to take unpopular stands that may pit you against the culture. You may be mocked, ostracized, unfairly treated, and even vilified. But in the midst of such treatment, we are called to “live such good lives among the [unsaved] that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds” so that they may “glorify God on the day he visits us” (1 Peter 2:12). Are you ready for what your faith might cost you? Think about that as you seek to abide in Him this week.

PRAYER

God, you alone are worthy of my allegiance. You are the one who bankrupted heaven to pay the ransom for my sins. You sent Jesus to this earth knowing that He would be flogged by an angry mob, beaten and crucified, so that I could be rescued from the dominion of darkness. You already went to hell and back for my redemption, so there is no fiery furnace in which you will abandon me to myself. Thank you for that assurance. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection, Small Group or Family Discussion:

  1. What spectacular fireworks display stands out in your memory?
  2. What did King Nebuchadnezzar make and what were the people commanded to do? (Daniel 3:1-6)
  3. How did Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego respond to the king (Daniel 3:16-18)? What do you think gave them that kind of boldness?
  4. What did the crowd observe when the men came out of the fire, and how did the king respond to God’s deliverance of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego? (Daniel 3:26-30)   
  5. What would make you confident or afraid if your safety were threatened because of your faith in God? If God chose not to rescue you from intense personal suffering, how would this affect your faith? What are you willing to risk in order to obey God’s clear commands?

Subscribe to “Abiding In Him” and get the latest devotional in your Inbox once a week.

This VBS curriculum is based on the Old Testament book of Daniel. The theme teaches children how to live with courage in uncertain times. It was designed as a camp curriculum for children 8-12 years of age. Can also serve as a 5-week Sunday morning children’s ministry teaching series.

When Will We Have Justice and Peace?

Text: Daniel 2:1-49

And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed… it shall stand forever.” —Daniel 2:44

Have you ever had a troubling dream? One that left you unsettled or perplexed in your spirit? I sometimes get in trouble for things I did in my wife’s dreams. Something about that just doesn’t seem fair!

In the ancient world, dreams were thought to be shadows of future events, not just aftereffects of bad pizza! For a king, his dreams might have significance for the nation as a whole, and the interpretation would be critical for steps to be taken in order to prepare for the events the dream anticipated, or even to counteract them.

As we continue in our devotional series in the book of Daniel, we find King Nebuchadnezzar deeply troubled by some dreams he was having. He knew that one in particular was unusually significant. So Nebuchadnezzar called upon his staff of specialists over the DODI—Department of Dream Interpretations. These were the magicians, the enchanters, the sorcerers, and the Chaldeans. The name “Chaldeans” initially referred to a part of the Babylonian Empire, but it developed into a descriptive term for a special group, known for their expertise in magic lore and interpreting dreams. He told them if they weren’t able to make known the interpretation, they would be “torn limb from limb,” and their “houses would be laid in ruins.” Perhaps he sent it out in a Tweet!

The Chaldeans found the interpretation too difficult, saying that no one could reveal the meaning “except the gods, whose dwelling is not with flesh.” Despite all their wisdom—real or imagined—these wise men had no answer for the king, because it could only come from God. The king was enraged, and commanded that all these “wise men of Babylon” be executed, which would have also included Daniel and his friends. But Daniel intervened, responding with “prudence and discretion,” and petitioned the king to give him time to make the interpretation known.

Daniel and his three amigos (Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah) prayed and sought the God of heaven concerning this mystery. Then it was revealed to Daniel in a vision of the night. Probably quite relieved that he would be spared from execution, Daniel takes time to praise God with a hymn of worship—a beautiful declaration of God’s sovereignty and control over the troubling situation (Daniel 2:20-23). He then advocated for the other wise men’s lives to be pardoned and announced that he would come before the king and show the interpretation of the dream.

It turns out that Nebuchadnezzar’s dream didn’t just concern himself and his kingdom, but it also spoke of future kingdoms and “the latter days.” Daniel prophesied that four powerful human kingdoms would have their dominance then ultimately be shattered by “a stone cut by no human hand” (v.45), referring to the coming Messiah, Jesus Christ (Psalm 118:22, Isaiah 8:14, Isaiah 28:16, Zechariah 3:9): “And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall the kingdom be left to another people. It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever…” (Daniel 2:44).

At that time, God will establish a kingdom that shall never be destroyed. It will never be toppled. It will never be overthrown. It will start small but grow to fill all the earth and, unlike the earthly kingdoms, it will endure forever. From humble beginnings—think of a lowly king riding into Jerusalem on a donkey and a small band of misfits turning the Roman empire upside down with their Gospel message—to ultimate, united glory as a single kingdom that fills the whole earth forever.

The kingdoms of this world do not have the degree of power they surmise. Rest assured, beloved, that every human society—whether dictatorships, democracies, or anarchists—will ultimately yield to the reign of Christ (Revelation 19:11-16). True justice and sustained peace will one day be realized when every knee bows and every tongue confesses that Jesus Christ is Lord (Philippians 2:10-11). The Bible describes it as an age when “the lion and the lamb will lay down together” (Isaiah 11:6). No more war. No more hostilities. No more division. No more suffering. No more pain, and can you imagine… no more political bickering? Our hearts don’t need to be unsettled by troubling times when we know what the Almighty has already revealed about the future. The Bible proved to be accurate in its ancient prophecies, and will hold true for this generation as well. God’s historical track record should give us great confidence over the affairs happening in our world today.

Christ is that “stone” that will break in pieces all these other little earthly kingdoms (Luke 20:18). He is the mystery of the ages, the one in whom God plans to unite all things in his glorious kingdom (Ephesians 1:9–10), and His is a kingdom from everlasting to everlasting. Rest in this promise as you seek to abide in Him this week.

PRAYER

God, you are sovereign over all the affairs and kingdoms of this world. You haven’t left us to ourselves in all this madness. You are actively advancing Your kingdom, and we understand there is a human rebellion against that kingdom that cannot succeed. Remind us that the culture wars all around us are not against flesh and blood, but against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Keep us vigilant, and may our lives continue to be active agents of Gospel fluency for the lost you are seeking to save in this hour. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection, Small Group or Family Discussion:

  1. What has been your happiest dream or your strangest nightmare? If you knew that our nation would come under the control of another world power within a week, what would you do?
  2. What did Nebuchadnezzar do about his troubling dreams and what did the king expect from his wise men (Daniel 2:1-9)?
  3. What contrast do we see in how the astrologers approached the situation and how Daniel responded (Daniel 2:10-18)? What did the king do in response to Daniel’s interpretation (Daniel 2:46-49)?
  4. What can we learn from Daniel about how to deal with unreasonable or demanding people? Why do you think the Bible says it is better to get wisdom than gold (Proverbs 16:16)?
  5. How can you trust God with an unreasonable or difficult person in your life? What can you do this week to seek God’s kingdom above the kingdoms of this world?

Subscribe to “Abiding In Him” and get the latest devotional in your Inbox once a week.

This VBS curriculum is based on the Old Testament book of Daniel. The theme teaches children how to live with courage in uncertain times. It was designed as a camp curriculum for children 8-12 years of age. Can also serve as a 5-week Sunday morning children’s ministry teaching series.

Rising Above the Hostility of This Age

Text: Daniel 1:1-21

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” —Romans 12:2

It’s one of my son’s favorite workout songs—one I often hear blaring from the garage when Zach is lifting weights. “Rise Above It” is the theme from the movie Cool Runnings, the story of four Jamaican athletes who set out to make history by becoming the first Olympic bobsledding team from their nation. They must overcome extensive adversity and malicious opponents to attain that glory.

“Rise Above It” was the idea behind the conversation I had over lunch last week with a couple of inner-city boys I’ve been mentoring, one twelve and the other fourteen. We talked a great deal about current events and the turmoil in our nation, and most importantly, how to rise above the fray of all the social propaganda and political divisiveness, so we can truly see the world’s deepest need from the lens of biblical truth and gospel-centered justice and reconciliation. It is through this corrective lens that we realize the greatest virtues we can contribute to any society don’t come from merely “conforming” to what the culture demands that we be, but by becoming what God—the Almighty Creator—divinely “purposed” us to be “for such a time as this.”

God never puts us in a time and place to merely conform to our environment, but to “come out and be separate,” as a people who look, live, and think different than the world’s system. We are not here by accident or coincidence. We are not here to evolve into hostile people simply because hostile people want us to conform to their image. We are here to stand out in this historic moment, and reflect that we serve a greater Kingdom than this world’s man-made institutions. Romans 12:2 instructs believers: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

The difference between conforming to this world versus discerning and fleshing out “the will of God” is fought on the battleground of the mind. Our minds are under a constant daily barrage to think a certain way, which in this hour often evokes conforming to malice. We must rise above it. If we are to “shine like lights in the middle of a crooked and perverse nation” (Philippians 2:15), we need to think differently than a society that is in defiant rebellion against God. We see a perfect example of this in today’s devotional text. It’s a short history lesson about Daniel and his three friends, teenage exiles, trying to faithfully serve their God in the midst of a godless society in Babylon—a land of tyranny, pagan idolatry, and cultural conformity.

In Daniel 1, we see a brainwashing strategy in motion. The narcissistic King Nebuchadnezzar sought to assimilate these exiled youths into Babylonian culture by obliterating their religious and cultural identity and creating dependence upon the royal court. He ordered that these Hebrews under his subjugation must attend Pagan University. The goal of Pagan U was to strip these guys of their former identity—national and cultural heritage—while indoctrinating them with Babylonian language, customs, and beliefs. Their birth names, which once reflected their faith in Jehovah, were changed to reflect the gods of the land. They were schooled in the language and mythological literature of the Babylonians. The bullying and intimidation tactics of Pagan U would’ve been more than enough to cause any faint of heart to compromise, but these were no faint-of-heart teenagers. They didn’t just go with the flow and give in to what social psychologists of our day define as the “groupthink” mentality. It wasn’t easy, yet these bold young people didn’t abandon their faith and convictions for cultural conformity.

Though they were appointed a daily provision of the king’s delicacies, Daniel and his friends resisted them. Why? Verse 8 says: “But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s food…” They considered the king’s food defiled for at least three reasons. First, it wasn’t kosher. Second, it was very likely sacrificed to idols. Third, eating the king’s food implied fellowship and conformity with Babylon’s institutional and cultural defiance of God. Surely this would label them as being uncooperative and bring them under threat of punishment. Nevertheless, Daniel didn’t do what the culture demanded of him because his priorities weren’t about staying relevant, preserving his social status, or amassing likes on his social media posts; Daniel’s first order of business was an unflinching conviction that he would not “defile himself” by compromising what was all-important to His God. He and his friends risked everything, reputation and livelihood, to remain faithful to their God-given purpose.

But we see another principle at work here. While Daniel and his friends refused to conform, they also showed respect to the pagan authorities in the king’s court. This undoubtedly worked in their favor when Daniel proposed to them a “better” meal plan. His solution was embraced because their stance wasn’t one of hostility and vitriol. God gave them favor with those in power, and those in power not only listened to them, they were influenced by the youths’ faith and wisdom. “They stood before the king. And in every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king inquired of them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters that were in all his kingdom.”

Imagine if their whole purpose or agenda in life became relegated to the triviality of just fighting King Nebuchadnezzar. They would’ve missed their whole mission. What a shortcoming of their destiny that would’ve been. Instead, God had a much bigger plan. It was to focus on His agenda and for them to become grace-filled agents of light in a dark world. They couldn’t do that with malice in their hearts. They had to recognize that their battle wasn’t against flesh and blood, or other human beings, but against “the god of the age that was blinding the minds of unbelievers” (2 Corinthians 4:4). We see this unfold throughout the entire book of Daniel.

Consider that this world is transitory and not your home—you are just passing through. Know that there isn’t time for conformity for the sake of preserving social status. God put us here in this specific time to shine as lights in a dark place, and like Daniel, we have a small window of opportunity to make a difference—to be an agent of grace and not an ambassador of malice. Make the days count. Reconsider your diet—instead of feasting daily on a buffet of negative media, turn to God’s Word for a healthy nourishment of Good News. Remember that there is a wrong way to be right. Standing up for God’s truth in a wrong spirit (vitriol, animosity, disrespecting and disparaging your opponents) is toxic to movements of grace. Learn from Daniel and his friends. God favored them because they had character to resist, courage to stand, and gentleness and respect for those of pagan worldviews (1 Peter 3:15-16). That’s why their legacy is enduring. What will be your legacy? Think about that as you seek to abide in Him in these times.

PRAYER

Dear God, help us in our struggle to resist conforming to this world’s pattern. The lure of conforming to the agenda of human malice is so powerful in these times. Let our heavenly mission not become hijacked by earthly motives. Holy Spirit teach us to discern your perfect will, that we would know how to shine as lights in a dark time. Renew our minds with discernment and understanding, guard our hearts with compassion and mercy, fill our words with grace that speaks truth along with dignity and respect. Keep us about our Father’s business and let us not get tripped up by cultural conformity. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection, Small Group or Family Discussion:

  1. How might a non-Christian acquaintance describe you? When have you taken a Christian stand in a non-Christian setting?
  2. What were the characteristics of the teenage captives? (Daniel 1:3-4)
  3. What was Daniel’s resolve and how did the chief official respond to Daniel’s request? (Daniel 1:8-14)
  4. What was the result of the test? (Daniel 1:15-16) What did God give to the four men and what did Nebuchadnezzar conclude concerning them? (Daniel 1:17-20)     
  5. This week, what is something you can do to rise above the cultural hostility and toxic malice of our times? How can you win the battle of the mind—to resist fighting against flesh and blood and turn your focus toward the spiritual warfare that exists with the “god of this age”?

Subscribe to “Abiding In Him” and get the latest devotional in your Inbox once a week.

This VBS curriculum is based on the Old Testament book of Daniel. The theme teaches children how to live with courage in uncertain times. It was designed as a camp curriculum for children 8-12 years of age. Can also serve as a 5-week Sunday morning children’s ministry teaching series.

Redemption: Our Only Hope is Not Just a Cliché

Text: Ruth 4:1-22

“Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without a redeemer…” —Ruth 4:14

What do you think it will be like to experience redemption from all of your pain, suffering, and hardship? What will you do in the climax of that moment—when every sorrow is turned to joy, every hurt is healed completely, every loss is swallowed up by triumph, and every injustice has been rectified? That day will surely come, beloved, and we do well to picture what our response will be when it happens. It can remedially shape how we “patiently endure evil” in this present time (2 Timothy 2:24).

As we conclude our final devotion in this series from the book of Ruth, we see that God is still at work even in troubled times. The book of Ruth has been described as the story of God “through the eyes of women.” One of its characters, Naomi, has been compared to a female Job. She suffered from a severe famine and the tragic loss of her husband and two sons. It’s plausible she lost even more than Job did—her essential livelihood. She dwelt among society’s most marginalized: the poor and the widowed. Bitterness had taken such a root in her soul that she chose to redefine her existence (“Mara”). What she didn’t realize is that God wasn’t finished writing the story of her life—an epic chapter was still to come!

Naomi’s faith might’ve been wounded, but it wasn’t dead. Even when we have a crisis of faith, God remains faithful. He never abandons us in our distress, or when we struggle with doubts. He never stops rescuing us from ourselves! His extended grace enables Naomi to take those difficult next steps even as her soul is ailing and everything in her says ‘give up.’ It’s likely a pure ‘faith over feelings’ moment when she urges Ruth to boldly propose to Boaz, who was a legitimate kinsman redeemer in accordance with their ancient cultural laws. This was an act of faith rooted in God’s Word. Naomi finds a way to take a “faith step” despite overwhelming feelings of grief, bitterness, and sorrow.

The outcome was favorable. Boaz and Ruth were married and soon had a son named Obed. Naomi’s misfortune turned to joy when she held that little grandchild in her arms. Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without a redeemer, and may his name be renowned in Israel! He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age, for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has given birth to him” (Ruth 4:14-15). Then Naomi took the child and laid him on her lap and became his nurse. It’s a glorious redemption moment. The child brought great joy to Bethlehem, became the grandfather of a godly king (David), and ultimately the ancestor of the Lord Jesus Christ himself.

We can learn much from Naomi. Even when we can’t see the bigger picture and life is under duress, God’s plan is still perfect and filled with love. He knows what He is doing. All things do work together for good for those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).

We must also understand who the main character is in this story. It isn’t Naomi. It isn’t Ruth. It isn’t Boaz. The real Hero is Christ, the Redeemer. He is the protagonist in the story of our lives as well. Our stories are not fundamentally about us; our lives are simply a canvas for God to write out His redemption for the world to see His glory. He is the One Who provides a future for Naomi and Ruth, two widows with such little prospects for a future. It is through the canvas of their lives that we see how God cares for the marginalized, just as He commands us to do (Jeremiah 22:16; James 1:27).

The final takeaway is that we need to keep our eyes on our Redeemer, not the bleakness of the moment. It is not a cliché to say that Jesus Christ, the Redeemer, is the only hope for our world today. Social and systemic injustices will never be remedied without true humility and repentance. Bigotry, bitterness, and hatred in the hearts of people will never be holistically remedied apart from the love of Christ. Violence, vitriol, and vindictiveness will never usher in real justice. Legislation will never change a heart. Only God can do that. Our only cure is looking to Jesus.

We must recognize Jesus not merely as some historical figure, but as the living Redeemer of all the restoration and reconciliation God wants to bring about in our world today. Ignoring Him leads to pride. Looking to Him is what humbles us (Philippians 2:1-11). As Laura Gallier, one of my daughter’s favorite authors, said, “Of all the countless acts of injustice committed throughout mankind’s history, none compares to the atrocious beating, scourging and crucifixion of Christ, which he willingly suffered on our behalf, motivated solely by God’s love for humanity. This revelation becomes our foundation for repenting of our own sinful actions and also forgiving acts of injustice committed against us.” Looking at Christ’s substitutionary sacrifice on the cross for our sins humbles us. That’s why so many people ignore the cross—they don’t want to humble themselves. Thus they remain poisoned by their pride, bigotry, hatred, bitterness, and animosity toward other human beings.

Our hope begins at the cross. It is here that we humble ourselves at the feet of Jesus, allow His revelation to transform our hearts, and let him replace our Mara (“bitterness”) with healing. It is here that we find forgiveness and restoration. The cross is where hate is overcome by love, vengeance overcome by mercy, and animosity overcome by reconciliation. It’s where we recognize our humanity with all of its flaws, see a God Who created every person in His very own image, and willingly laid down His life so that His creation can be saved, healed, and redeemed.

Just like Naomi and Ruth in their distress, God has not left you without a Redeemer. He is still writing on the canvas of repentant lives today. Will you trust Him? Will you turn to Him? Will you view your broken world through the reconciliatory lens of the cross? Will you walk, love, and serve others in humility? Think about that as you seek to abide in Him this week.

PRAYER

God, sometimes there are no words to describe the sorrow, the injustices, and the evil that we experience in this fallen world. It is impossible for us to make sense of it all. People need hope. And the only path toward a redeemed future begins at the foot of the cross. Our bitterness doesn’t engineer a favorable outcome. Thank you for your grace, which leads us to that place of surrender so that we can see you write a better story than we could ever imagine. Grant us humility to turn to you, to release our angst, our grief, our sorrow, and all of our fears and doubts. Save us from ourselves. Holy Spirit, reveal to us the path forward. Though often assaulted and sometimes faltering, may our faith be found trusting you to bring about the ultimate redemption in this story we are living. In Jesus’ name, and for His glory, Amen.

Questions for Reflection, Small Group or Family Discussion:

  1. What are some of the etiquette or unwritten social rules in your family? What is essential to treating others with dignity and respect?
  2. What is the central event in this chapter (Ruth 4:1-12)? How is the elders’ blessing on Boaz and Ruth’s marriage significant in light of the rest of the chapter? (Ruth 4:11-13)
  3. How is this chapter an example of God’s providence in our lives? What can this story teach us about God’s redemption plan for our world today?
  4. Why do we tend to overlook or ignore the power of the cross in our daily lives? Like Paul, how can we “die daily” so that we can serve the Lord faithfully (1 Corinthians 15:31)?
  5. What feelings of bitterness, anger, grief, sorrow, vindictiveness, or animosity might you need to bring to the cross today?

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Desperate Faith: “We Bought a Zoo”

Text: Ruth 3:1-18

“In whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him.” —Ephesians 3:12

When was the last time your faith moved you to do something bold… even seemingly crazy? When was the last time you were moved out of your comfort zone and into unfamiliar territory, taking a necessary risk because you were desperate to follow the way of Jesus?

“Desperate times call for desperate measures,” refers to actions that might seem extreme under normal circumstances but are more appropriate in times of adversity, distress, or when duty calls. “We Bought a Zoo” is a film about such measures. It tells the true story of a widowed father, Benjamin Mee, who desperately tries to pick up the broken pieces of his life and lead his grieving children forward after they lost their mother to cancer. He does something quite “ridiculous,” and it ends up being the remedy his ailing family needs in their journey to recovery. Yep, you know where this is going… they bought a run-down zoo and worked to renovate it and restore its faded glory. Benjamin, who had to get unstuck from his depression, later told his struggling teenage son:

“You know, sometimes all you need is twenty seconds of insane courage. Just literally twenty seconds of embarrassing bravery. And I promise you something great will come of it.”

In our continued devotional series through the book of Ruth, we come to a place in the story that is a fitting picture of Benjamin Mee’s thesis on life. Here we find twenty seconds of insane courage and vulnerable bravery. Naomi coaches her widowed daughter-in-law, Ruth, to put on some perfume, go down to the threshing floor where Boaz is sleeping, snuggle right up next to his sleeping bag, uncover his feet and tickle them. When he wakes up, propose to him. Okay, that is a very loose translation but there’s not a scholar alive who can convince me that it didn’t tickle his feet! Boaz was startled.

“At midnight the man was startled and turned over, and behold, a woman lay at his feet! He said, ‘Who are you?’ And she answered, ‘I am Ruth, your servant. Spread your wings over your servant, for you are a redeemer.’” What a proposal! Talk about the possibility of looking like an idiot. What if he rejected her?

Ruth and Naomi are desperate. It pays off. The sounds of wedding bells are in the future. Ruth’s twenty seconds of courage is more than just scheming to attract the attention of Boaz. Her actions reveal a bold faith in the promises God. Both Naomi and Ruth knew that Boaz was, according to Jewish law, a kinsman-redeemer as instituted in Leviticus 25. They weren’t following blind or random courage; they were taking God at His Word and acting out of a desperate trust in His decreed faithfulness. Boaz was the man fitting to bring about their redemption story according to scripture, and in the much broader picture, he also foreshadows Jesus Christ, the ultimate Kinsman Redeemer who will redeem a bride for Himself—the church.

Where do you need twenty seconds of bold faith right now? Where do you need to dig down deep and pull out that last ounce of courage you have, and act faithfully in obedience to what Jesus tells you to do—renouncing your fears, your comfort, your vulnerability, and your trepidation? Maybe it’s in choosing to focus on the size of your God rather than the size of a pandemic. Maybe it’s a deliberate choice to forgive that person who wounded you. Perhaps picking up the phone and reconciling a severed relationship, apologizing to your spouse or children, or praying for enemies and political personalities you despise. It might be an act of advocacy, or starting a new ministry to serve the needs of others.

It might only take about twenty seconds of courage to set in motion a series of events that revives something in your life and opens up the floodgates for God’s kingdom to breakout all around you. Where can you flesh out that courage in your life? Think about that as you seek to abide in Him this week.

PRAYER

Dear Jesus, our Kinsman Redeemer and Lord over all, lead us by the guidance of the Holy Spirit to know where we need to enact courage and bold faith in the days ahead. There is bitterness, darkness, and unrest all around us. Desperation hovers over many. Move us to make a difference, taking that first bold step of faith, then seeing you open the floodgates of heaven upon our obedience. Lord, thank you for your faithfulness.

Questions for Reflection, Small Group or Family Discussion:

  1. When have you ever found yourself in a “desperate” situation like Ruth?
  2. What motivated Naomi to tell Ruth to go to Boaz (Ruth 3:1-2)? What specific instructions did she give to Ruth (Ruth 3:1-4)?
  3. How did Naomi refer to Boaz, and why is this significant (Ruth 3:2)?
  4. What does Ruth’s obedience to Naomi reveal about her character? What does Boaz’s willingness to fulfill his obligation reveal about him? What positive character traits stand out in this story?
  5. Judging from this passage, what does God want you to do when you cannot see the solution to a problem in your life? Where is God beckoning you to act boldly and courageously—even desperately?

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The Last Dance: What Will Yours Look Like?

Text: Ruth 2:1-23

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” — Romans 8:18

Like millions out there today, I was inspired by “Air Jordan” in the 80s and 90s, and often dreamed I could “be like Mike.” I loved to come home from school and play hoops for endless hours. When Cindy and I were newlyweds, some of our date nights involved going to the local park where I would practice “fade-aways” for an hour and she would grab my rebounds. Yep, that girl is pretty amazing!

Though I never was able to dunk a basketball—I don’t think I drank enough Gatorade!—the sport has been a meaningful part of my life. Basketball was one of our first sports ministries to at-risk youth in Florida juvenile detention centers during the late 90s, and it’s a big component of our summer camps for prisoners’ kids and disadvantaged children in East Tennessee. It’s also been a touch of heaven bringing mission teams to the Dominican Republic to do sports ministry with the kids on a basketball court we built for an orphanage a few years ago.

Because so much of my basketball passion was fueled by Michael Jordan, the hype surrounding ESPN’s new documentary The Last Dance has stirred many hoop memories for me. In 1995, When MJ returned to the NBA after a brief retirement, I mused along with the rest of the world: Can he still compete at the same level? Can he still win? Could he silence all the critics who doubted the possibilities? Well, not only did he win, his team dominated the league while showcasing one of the greatest basketball teams to ever take the court. The “Last Dance” revealed that the best was still to come, despite all the tension coming from the skeptics and doubters.

Are my best days behind me, or in front of me?

This internal question is something many of us ponder as the drama of our lives continues to unfold. In this devotional series, we’ve been looking at the book of Ruth the last couple of weeks. During a time of famine, Naomi and her family had left the Promised Land and went to Moab, where she would face unimaginable tragedy—losing her husband and her two sons. It was a season, surely, when the widow must’ve questioned whether her best days were now behind her. She even renamed herself “Mara” (meaning “bitter”), describing what her life now felt like. Her homecoming is one of sorrow and grief. What she didn’t know was that God was orchestrating a “last dance” that would give rise to a redemption story for the ages.

Naomi and Ruth faced agonizing hardship, but with God, hardship never spells hopelessness. As widows, they benefited from an ancient tradition that helped those affected by poverty (Leviticus 19:9-10). The law commanded farmers in Israel to “cut corners” in harvesting, for the purpose of leaving behind some bundles of grain for the less fortunate in the land. It was a win-win social assistance program intended to help farmers have a generous heart while giving the poor an opportunity to actively work for their food in a way that restored their dignity.

Ruth, demonstrating a hard-working spirit, set out to glean in the fields to support Noami and herself. Whether directly from God himself (Ruth 2:12), or through a human channel “in whose sight I shall find favor (Ruth 2:2),” her faith expected to see God show up (Hebrews 11:6). Despite being a Moabite and a foreigner, she was wiser than many in Israel when it came to recognizing the Lord’s hand in her labor (Colossians 3:23-24, Galatians 6:9, Psalm 128:2, Psalm 90:17, Proverbs 14:23). Her faith is seen in the way she works. James would be proud! (James 2:14-26)

The beauty in Naomi and Ruth’s last dance is seen where faith and hard work intersect with divine intervention. Their story—as does the story of your life—has a redeemer. As Ruth’s faith is thrust into action in the barley fields, she “happened to come to the part of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the clan of Elimelech” (Elimelech was Naomi’s deceased husband). The odd construction of this sentence in the original text is deliberate. In colloquial English, we would say, “As her luck would have it…” But the statement is ironic. The storyteller intentionally uses an expression that forces the reader to sit up and muse how Ruth just “happens” to land in the field of a man who was not only gracious (Ruth 2:2) but also a kinsman who had the right to marry Ruth after the death of her husband (according to Jewish law). As the story plays out, we see that Ruth’s arrival at Boaz’ field has nothing to do with sheer coincidence or happenstance, but indisputable fingerprints of God’s providential hand.

Suddenly, the future is looking much different for these two women who have suffered agonizing misfortune. Why? Because a redeemer is now in the picture, and this changes everything, as we will conclude next week.

Tragedy. Loss. Unemployment. Financial hardship. Sorrow. Grief. Depression. Addiction. Anxiety. Sickness. Pandemic. These stories are all told differently when a redeemer is present. Your Redeemer lives, beloved. No matter what kind of hardship or setbacks you have experienced, be assured that your best days are still to come. Your next dance—last dance, or whatever you want to call it—will be full of favor and beauty, but not due to luck, coincidence, or human sufficiency; it will be brilliant because of the fact that The Almighty is the Choreographer and HE upholds you. He will never leave you nor forsake you in this dance. You can trust His next steps!

PRAYER

Heavenly Father, what a picture of hope for the battered and weary soul. You always have a plan and a process. It’s a process that we can trust because we know Your heart. Remind us this week that the best is still to come. Our redemption draws nigh because You purpose for the world to see Your glory—not just in some abstract way, but very directly and specifically on the canvas of our lives. Increase our faith. Stretch our hope. Ignite our prayers. Kindle us with a passion to serve you in this hour with great expectancy of the redemption to come. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection, Small Group or Family Discussion:

  1. When have you ever faced danger in doing what you thought was right? When has your faith put you in a vulnerable situation?
  2. How did Boaz’s foreman describe Ruth (Ruth 2:6-7)? What character traits of Ruth stand out to you?
  3. What specific instructions did Boaz give to Ruth, and how did she respond to him (Ruth 2:8-11)? In what ways is faith different from optimism or mere wishful thinking?
  4. Judging from the events in this story, what character traits does God honor in His people? What is a step you can take this week toward developing your character?
  5. How have you seen God’s providence at work in your life? How could you demonstrate your thankfulness to the Lord for His provision for you?

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When Feeling Bitter With Life

Text: Ruth 1:19-22

“Indeed it was for my own peace that I had great bitterness; But You have lovingly delivered my soul from the pit of corruption, For You have cast all my sins behind Your back.” —Isaiah 38:17

Have you ever had a crisis of faith? If God is so good, then why did this happen to me? How do I believehopepress on, when I have known such indescribable pain and loss? That’s where we find Naomi in her return to Bethlehem (Ruth 1:19-22).

When Naomi set out for Moab years earlier with her husband, Elimelech, she was filled with such high hopes and vibrant dreams of what her life would look like. Yet in Moab, all she seemed to encounter was a series of disappointments and hardship. She loses her husband, and then both of her sons. Impoverished and bereaved, she finds herself on a painful journey back to her homeland, along with her widowed daughter-in-law, Ruth. It’s hard for Naomi to see that God is near in the wake of such sorrow, loss, and devastation. “I went away full, and the Lord has brought me back empty,” she says. “Why call me Naomi, when the Lord has testified against me and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?”

The wounded widow is referring to the meaning of her name, which means “pleasant.” She tells her people, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me.” Mara means “bitter.” In a sense, Naomi is trying to rewrite the story of her life based on the cards she has been dealt. Like many of us do from time to time, she is not associating her name with her God-given identity, but with what has happened to her. Her pain has errantly become her identity.

Disappointments are not meant to define us. You are NOT what has happened to you. Too often that’s how life unfolds; we feel branded by our hardship. In her grief, which can be very messy, Naomi presumes that God is punishing her. She laments that the Almighty has dealt her a very bitter hand. Notice the wordplay on God’s sovereignty (“Almighty”). It seems that Naomi is charging that because God is sovereign over all things, He didn’t have to let this happen. But He did… so it’s an indictment on His goodness—thus the crisis of faith.

Naomi can’t see the bigger picture in this particular chapter of suffering. As we keep reading the next chapters, we see God’s blessing and favor materialize, and Ruth playing a key role in the rehabilitation of Naomi’s faith. God demonstrates his grace, goodness, and faithfulness in manifold ways. Naomi’s bitterness will soon be turned to joy, as her life will illustrate the power of God to bring something good out of bitter circumstances.

How about you, beloved? Have circumstances derailed your faith? Have you allowed what has happened to you come to define you? Has bitterness distorted your interpretation of what God is up to in your life at this moment? Despite our own misinterpretations about God’s plan and our indictments about His intentions toward us, His redemption always tells the story rightly in the end. His grace narrates the drama more completely—and it’s always in our favor (Hosea 6:1, Isaiah 61:7, Job 42:10, 1 Peter 5:10). Think about that as you seek to abide in Him this week.

PRAYER

Heavenly Father, thank you for your goodness despite our often misinterpretations about what you are doing. We are too near-sighted to see the bigger picture of what Your redemption is painting on the canvas of our lives. Help us to trust in your goodness, and wait patiently for the redemption that is sure to come. Thank for your grace and favor, which will ultimately speak over all of our disappointments and sorrows. Weeping may endure for a moment, but joy comes in the morning. We worship you because YOU are worthy. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection, Small Group or Family Discussion:

  1. In what things do most people in our society seem to find their identity?
  2. Why did Naomi call herself Mara (Ruth 1:20-21)? Why do we so easily accept what has happened to us as our identity?
  3. Have you ever charged God with ill intentions, or questioned His goodness, because of something that happened in your life?
  4. How does the relationship between Naomi and Ruth speak about how God uses others to bring about redemption in our stories?
  5. Rather than finding your identity in the things that have happened to you, what can you do this week to find your identity in the redemptive story that God will one day tell more rightly—completely—about your life?

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Orpah Kissed Naomi, But Ruth Clung to Her

Text: Ruth 1:1-18

“For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God.” —Ruth 1:16

I used to think of myself as a football fan (American football, not soccer!), that is, until I moved to Tennessee. Once I found myself surrounded by such diehard college football enthusiasts, I eventually learned that I’m not really a true fan (fanatical follower), just a casual spectator who enjoys the game. There is a huge difference.

The casual spectator can watch a game without experiencing any animosity toward an opposing team. On the other hand, the fanatical fan experiences a whole different spectrum of emotions during and after the game. They will carry their passions from the game—its hostility withal—to their workplace for the rest of the week! Husbands and wives with divided team loyalties might even have to sleep in different rooms following a game! A true fan doesn’t just watch the game; this person will live vicariously through their team’s identity, even claiming to “bleed” that team’s colors.

I eventually realized that, when it comes to football, I’m not in the same league as fanatical followers.

In this week’s devotional passage, we see a similar contrast. In only four short chapters, the book of Ruth reveals an epic love story, depicting unwavering faithfulness and relentless devotion. Naomi and her husband, Elimelech, had been sojourners in the land of Moab after a severe famine drove them out of Judah. But now, years later, Naomi’s husband and her two sons have all died, leaving Naomi and her Moabite daughters-in-law widowed, vulnerable, and without any support.

The three of them set out for Naomi’s homeland together when we get to a pivotal scene in the Scriptures. Naomi, recognizing the difficulties that lay ahead, gives her blessing for the two women to return to their native mother’s house in Moab. Ruth 1:14 tells us that Orpah kissed Naomi goodbye, but that Ruth clung to her. Picture this devotion for a moment. Ruth desperately wraps her arms around Naomi and adamantly refuses to let go. Though her mother-in-law urges her to let go and turn back, she will not.

The word translated as “clung” in this passage means: to stick to, adhere to, cling to, join with, stay in close proximity to, and which yields the noun form for “glue.” The same word is used when Moses told the Israelites they were to “hold fast” to the LORD God because “this is your life and the length of your days” (Deuteronomy 30:20). It conveys the ideas of loyalty and devotion, as it is used in Genesis 2:24 to associate how a man shall leave his father and his mother, and “cleave” to his wife. It emphasizes the basic meaning of being intimately joined to another and of being identified with another, even as Ruth was now committing to no longer being “identified” with the Moabites but primarily with Naomi, her people and her God.

Ruth’s act of clinging to Naomi is a reminder to all of us that even in times of seeming abandonment and despair, God calls on us to cling to Him with all of our intimate devotion. Orpah’s kiss was respectful and considerate, but also showed how easy she found it to turn back in the face of difficulty. It’s one thing to be a casual fan of Jesus—a fair-weather worshiper; it’s an entirely different “ballgame” to cling to Him in times of adversity—famine, loss, unemployment, sickness, pandemic.

Alexander Maclaren writes that as Orpah goes back to her home and her idolatrous gods, “She is the first in the sad series of those, ‘not far from the kingdom of God’ (Mark 12:34) who needed but a little more resolution at the critical moment, and, for want of it, shut themselves out from the covenant, and sank back to a world which they had half renounced.” Matthew Henry, referring to Orpah’s apparent resolution to do but failure to follow her words with actions says, “Strong passions, without a settled judgment, commonly produce weak resolutions.” Henri Rossi notes that Orpah’s good intention is not enough, “For nothing less than faith will do in order to enter into relationship with grace… It is possible to have a very amiable character without having faith. Faith makes a gulf between these two women who are so similar in so many ways. Confronted with impossibilities, the natural heart draws back, whereas faith is nourished on impossibilities and so increases in strength.”

True faith leads us to abandon our idols, give up our gods of self-sufficiency and illusions of control, and turn to the one true God as our only hope. True faith will inevitably make a distinction between the casual, “cultural Christian,” and the markedly devoted follower of Jesus Christ. That’s what is so precious about the faith Ruth displays—it’s full of resolution, clinging, and submission. Naomi is everything to Ruth because Ruth now cleaves to Naomi’s God (Ruth 1:16). She now “bleeds” a newfound loyalty to the King of kings and the Lord of lords. This changes everything. Unlike Orpah, her decisions are no longer dictated by a path of ease and comfort, but dictated by a path of what glorifies her God.

A kiss of outward profession to Christendom may be an act that appears sincere (Matthew 26:48, 49 Luke 22:47, 48), that is, until you see it contrasted with what real and true devotion to Jesus Christ looks like. In this moment of your life, does your association with the Divine look more like a respectful kiss (going through casual religious motions), or more like a fanatical-and-desperate-all-out clinging to Christ as your only path forward in life? Think about this contrast as you seek to abide in Him this week.

Unsure about what it means to be “saved by grace” and have a real, personal relationship with Jesus? Go here for answers. God is closer than you think.

PRAYER

Dear God, I don’t want to give you a casual kiss of appreciation from time to time. I want my life to be spent relentlessly clinging to the Lord Jesus Christ with wholehearted abandon. Teach me what unreserved devotion looks like. Confront my fears, my trepidation, my pride, my complacency, and my hesitation. I don’t want to turn back to the land of idols. Lead my heart in a path of repentance forward. Holy Spirit, free me to live wildly and passionately for the God I love, and the Savior I worship. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection, Small Group or Family Discussion:

  1. What is one of the nicest things someone has ever done for you?
  2. What kind of relationship did Naomi have with her daughters-in-law? (Ruth 1:8-10)
  3. What could Ruth expect for her future when she decided to go with Naomi to Judah, and how did that involve faith? How does Ruth’s commitment to the God of Israel offer hope and encouragement to you?
  4. How would you describe a person merely going through religious motions versus a person fully devoted to the Lordship of Jesus Christ? In his teachings about discipleship, why do you think Jesus talked about “counting the cost” and “taking up your cross” as part of the process?
  5. In what way might your faith sometimes resemble Orpah? How can it look more like the devotion of Ruth?

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A Good News Heart in a Bad News World

Text: Psalm 112:1-10

“He is not afraid of bad news; his heart is firm, trusting in the Lord.” —Psalm 112:7

Nobody likes bad news, although I did have quite an affinity with the “Bad News Bears” of the 70s when I was a kid. I think that film resonated with me due to my love for baseball intertwined with much dysfunction I experienced in childhood. I could truly relate with those outcasts, though the hard-drinking, grumpy coach in the movie had nothing on my real Little League coaches who smoked marijuana during our practices.

I would’ve never imagined back then that my “baseball” future would entail sharing the Gospel with kids all over the world through a global sports ministry. God has certainly redeemed the game of baseball in my life!!!

Psalm 112 speaks of a person with a Good News heart in a bad news world. Because this worshiper “fears the Lord,” and “greatly delights in His commandments,” he “is not afraid of bad news; his heart is firm, trusting in the Lord.” Charles Spurgeon noted, “He is neither fickle nor cowardly; when he is undecided as to his course he is still fixed in heart: he may change his plan, but not the purpose of his soul.”

Living with a fearless heart isn’t about being oblivious, impervious, in denial or dismissive of reality. It’s about having the utmost confidence in the One Who still speaks to this present storm, and trusting His heart when things are spiraling out of your control. Bad news might come to us from our family, the doctor, the economy, the unfaithful, the culture around us, or from politics. Yet the one who fears the LORD will not be afraid.

Too often we have the right theology, but not the right doxology. Though our mind knows the lyrics to that historic creed, we still find our heart singing a song of anxiety and panic. We tend to go “off-pitch” when our circumstances are in disharmony with our faith. We might know all the Sunday School answers, and yet still recoil at the pressures of the real life test. The psalmist wants us to be sure—“His heart is steady; he will not be afraid” (v.8)—that the Good News is greater than the bad news.

This kind of fearlessness isn’t about shrugging off reality, or retreating into some place of passive resignation, but with a very intentional and deliberate active trust in the goodness of our Father. I pray that the next time you are feeling overwhelmed with bad news, you will be reminded of all the good the Lord has promised you, and focus on the glorious redemption that is sure to headline your future.

PRAYER

Dear God, how I yearn for the steadiness that David highlights in this Psalm. Teach me how to have a steadfast heart that beats confidently in a circumstance-challenged body… a fearless calm when surrounded by gloominess and uncertainty… a Good News heart in a bad news world. Holy Spirit, liberate my soul to trust and not fret… free me to worship more and worry less. In Jesus’ blessed name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection, Small Group or Family Discussion:

  1. What are the things that worry you, or unsettle you about the future?
  2. Why is it often difficult to have a Good News heart in a bad news world?
  3. Where does the godly person find his or her sense of security? (Psalm 112:7) What can this person expect in the future? (Psalm 112:8)
  4. When have you seen God redeem something bad and turn it into something good?
  5. Where might you need a change of perspective to become more like the person described in this passage?

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