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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Super Bowl Faith: Playing for the Audience of One

Text: Colossians 3:17-24

“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.” Colossians 3:23

Faith will be driving the special teams captain for the New England Patriots when he takes the field on Super Bowl Sunday. Matthew Slater, the 2017 recipient of the Bart Starr Award, is not only a man who talks publicly about his faith, he is a man who practices it as well.

Matthew Slater grew up in a football home in southern California. His father, Jackie Slater, was an All-Pro offensive lineman for the Los Angeles Rams and is now in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Jackie Slater received the Bart Starr Award in 1996, making the Slaters the first father-son duo to ever win this prestigious award.

The Bart Starr Award was created to honor the NFL player who best exemplifies outstanding character and leadership in the home, on the field and in the community. “It was really emotional for me,” Slater said after learning that he had received the award.

“I really value the human element of football. I really value the relationships I’ve made with people over the years. All that stems from the faith I have in God and the way I was raised by my parents.”

The six-time Pro Bowler has been a leader and a positive example to his team both on and off the field. After every game, win or lose, he leads his team in prayer as the stands empty and the lights go down. Slater has a very simple explanation of his faith:

“I think everything I do, I do for an audience of one.”

The Apostle Paul seemed to share that sentiment in writing to the believers in Colossae. After admonishing Christ-followers to abandon the old self and “put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (Colossians 3:1-16), he encourages them to adopt this audience of One approach to everyday life (Colossians 3:17-24). The phrase Paul chose was commonly used for changing a set of clothes. The imagery suggested is that we take off the old garments of people-pleasing, and put on the new garments of seeking God’s pleasure foremost in our lives.

Paul reminds us that God is the unseen audience in all of our daily interactions and relationships. Being mindful of this changes the game in how we treat others. Playing for an audience of One means that we guard ourselves from becoming “harsh” with our spouse or overbearing with our children. It means that we recognize more of Jesus in our coworkers and our peers—even our bosses! And treat them accordingly.

Playing for an audience of One involves guarding our integrity when it seems no one is watching, “not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord.” Simply stated, it means doing everything “as for the Lord and not for men.”

When we play for the audience of One, everyone wins. We win. Our spouse wins. Our children win. Our colleagues win. Our faith wins. Our communities win. And most importantly, God’s glory wins.

Where can you play more for the audience of One in the gridiron of your life? Think about that as you seek to abide in Him this week.

Prayer

Heavenly Father, You are the unseen audience in all of our daily interactions. Your pleasure means more than human praise. Your approval sustains us despite what others may think or say about us. We seek Your glory in our lives above the applause of earthly beings. This by no means gives us a license to be calloused towards others, but conversely, it compels us to treat every other human being as an image-bearer of Jesus, himself. God, fill us with Your Holy Spirit and cause us to play for Your audience in everything that we do. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection and/or Family Discussion:

  1. How would you describe your “old self” and your “new self”?
  2. Have you ever struggled with being a people-pleaser?
  3. What is at the root of our need for human or divine affirmation?
  4. Who are the people in your life that are most difficult to get along with right now? How might playing to the audience of One affect that situation?
  5. What can you do this week to be more mindful of God’s presence in all of your daily interactions?

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Johnny Unitas Leadership Lessons

johnny unitas leadership lessons

Johnny Unitas Leadership Lessons: Vision + Preparation = Opportunity

In the early fifties a young man graduated from the University of Louisville with a brilliant passing record in football, but because Louisville wasn’t necessarily known for it’s power on the gridiron as much as it’s basketball excellence, this young man wasn’t deemed as NFL material.

He was drafted in the ninth round by the Pittsburgh Steelers but was cut before he even got a chance to throw a pass in a preseason game.

He went home and took an automobile tire, hung it from a limb of a tree, suspended it in action with a boy pulling it back and forth to stimulate movement, and learned to thread that moving tire with a football at ten yards, fifteen yards, twenty yards, thirty yards, forty yards. He went out every afternoon and on weekends for hours at a time throwing passes at that swinging tire. He even hired boys in the neighborhood to go out for passes. He kept throwing… throwing… and throwing… working incessantly on his accuracy.

That young man paid the price of a purpose that demanded his best. He had a VISION to play professional football. Opportunity always knocks for those who persistently prepare.

Eventually, he was called on to play semipro football with the Bloomfield (Pennsylvania) Rams for $6 per game. Later, the Baltimore Colts decided to take a chance on the kid with the crewcut and coach Weeb Ewbank signed him to a $7,000 contract.

Then when an injury sidelined Colts starting quarterback George Shaw in the 1956 season, Johnny Unitas got his chance and never looked back!

He led the Colts to three NFL championships, including one Super Bowl, and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1979. He was also named the NFL’s Most Valuable Player three times.

At the time of his retirement, he held records for the most pass attempts (5,186), most completions (2,830), most total yards (40,239), most touchdowns (290), most 300-yard games (26), and most consecutive games throwing touchdown passes (47). He also had three seasons of 3000+ passing yards.

But without a doubt, it’s for his heroic performance in the 1958 NFL title game, often referred to as the “Greatest Game Ever Played,” that he is best remembered.

His tying and winning drives were textbook-perfect examples of what it takes to win under pressure. Late in the game, with the Colts trailing the New York Giants 17-14, Unitas completed seven straight passes.

That set up the game’s tying field goal with just seven seconds left. He followed that All-Pro performance with a perfectly executed 80-yard touchdown drive in overtime to win.

How is it that one young man, having been dismissed and written off, later became Mr. Quarterback? He paid the price. He drove himself to prepare and when his preparation met opportunity, greatness was birthed.

Preparation pays off!